Make friends with fascia - we take a look at myofascial release
There’s a new prop on the block and it’s making your yoga practice extra juicy. Here’s everything you need to know to cultivate your own self-myofascial release routine.

In recent years, a new kind of prop has joined the ranks of blocks and straps at many yoga studios. Known as a massage or therapy ball, this highly effective tool is used for self-myofascial release, a method of restoring pliability to muscles and fascia. Akin to the foam roller, the massage ball is being incorporated into various styles of yoga classes ranging from vinyasa to yin, and some yoga studios have developed entire classes around it. The technique is fairly simple and because change can be felt instantaneously, it’s no wonder the popularity of myofascial release is on the rise. At its essence, it is a practice of self-study, making it a perfect complement to a yoga practice.

The term myofascial release is used broadly to imply work on the muscles and fascia, a type of connective tissue. You’ve experienced myofascial release any time you’ve had a massage or even acupuncture. The targeted use of balls, foam rollers and yoga blocks is known as self-myofascial release. These techniques manipulate the connective tissue and muscles to achieve a variety of goals such as eliminating pain, restoring motion, increasing strength and improving neuromuscular connection — outcomes which make a yoga practice more potent.

Fascia and its functions

Fascia is an interconnected system from head to toe that surrounds all of the body’s structures including muscles, bones, organs, nerves, arteries and veins. This densely woven web of connective tissue links structures together while elsewhere acts to separate and insulate. It plays an important role in allowing the structures of the body to maintain their shape as they are used. Without the fascial layer, movement would be painful and inefficient. Your body would have to expend tremendous amounts of extra energy to create stability and prevent damage to other parts of the body. Fascia is scaffolding for the body that facilitates efficient movement and function while keeping you upright.

Fascia provides essential lubrication that makes your movements smooth rather than robotic. Because muscle fibres are aligned indifferent directions, they need to be able to glide over and past each other to produce movement — a key component of your yoga practice. The gliding and sliding occurs between the fascial sheets that surround and interpenetrate individual muscles as well as divide muscles into groups. When the tissues are unable to glide past each other, Velcro-like adhesions occur in the fascia. This limits joint range of motion and muscle contraction and can show up in your yoga practice as a loss of mobility and/or strength.

In addition to impacting how the muscles fire, fascia also influences the durability of your joints. Dehydration of the fascia inhibits its ability to properly support the joints in the body. This often means that one or a group of muscles will overcompensate and overshadow other muscles. This is much like a group school project when a couple of students will do the work and the rest of the group piggybacks on their efforts. Eventually, this contributes to increased wear and tear of your joints, putting you more at risk of injury or experiencing pain on your yoga mat. Healthy fascia allows you to have a sustainable, long-lasting yoga practice.

Your yoga practice also benefits from enhanced communication not only with the brain but also with a body-wide intelligence. Many nerve endings are embedded in the fascia that allow you to perceive external and internal stimulus while you practise — you become more conscious of pain, temperature, proprioception (the position and movement of the body), your breath and heart rate. There is also a communication system within the fascial layer itself, which can transmit information faster and more frequently than the nervous system. While scientists are still conducting research to understand this fascial communication system, as yogis, we can use it to enhance our practice and wellbeing. Myofascial release heightens your sensitivity to how you are feeling both physically and mentally, enabling you to make more informed decisions — whether that’s recognising that you need a slower style of practice one day or backing off of an intense pose in order to prevent injury. Of course, this has a flow-on effect off the mat, too, of making healthier decisions.

How does fascia become unhealthy? Physical injury, emotional trauma, repetitive movements, poor posture, scar tissue and inflammation are some causes. Because fascia is one interconnected system, a problem with the fascia in one area of the body can be a source of tension elsewhere in the body. The good news is that fascia can be rehydrated and remodelled into a more functional arrangement over time through myofascial release.

It’s important to keep in mind that fascial change is a slow process. While muscles change in five to eight weeks, fascia changes over six to 24 months. This is actually a good thing — otherwise the pressure from kneeling in camel pose could alter the shape of your knees. You’re also not likely to sense the fascia “release” — the term is slightly misleading — even though you will feel the effects of the practice right away. Stimulation to certain sensory nerve endings in the fascia triggers the vagus nerve, a fundamental part of the parasympathetic nervous system, causing muscles to soften and leading to an overall sense of relaxation in the body. The key to this is to approach the practice gently rather than too vigorously.

Myofascial release in your practice

Incorporating myofascial release into your yoga practice is a natural adjunct. Because you are the one in control of the pressure and placement of the props, you can tailor the practice to your specific needs. The more you can tune in to where you feel tender spots in the soft tissue and notice the feeling change or dissipate during the practice, the better you will be able to adjust the intensity and duration so that over time you’ll know how to make the practice especially helpful for you. Be guided by where you personally feel restriction or pain and notice how the practice facilitates a release or softening. In this way, self-myofascial release becomes a practice of self-study, just like the rest of your yoga practice.

Before you get bent out of shape about the state of your fascia because you haven’t been rolling around on balls, or before you ditch your practice to only roll around on balls, rest assured that an asana (posture) practice also keeps your fascia fit. Varying the kind of stress applied to fascia is key for fascial resiliency. Static holds in both vinyasa and yin that stretch and compress tissues help to rehydrate and strengthen the tissues. Slow and smooth movements produce a thixotropic effect, meaning the fascia becomes more fluid and therefore more pliable. Movement in all directions stimulates nerve endings in the fascia to improve proprioception and body awareness. In addition to incorporating self-myofascial release, continuing your yoga asana practice is well advised for the health of your fascia.

Tips for self-myofascial release

  • Experiment with using it before, during or after your asana practice. Use it before the practice to release tension and increase mental focus. During the practice, it can be applied to further prepare for poses. Used at the end of the practice, it can enhance recovery or simply make you feel good when you step off the mat.
  • Find a spot that feels tight or tender. Try different techniques such as staying still, rolling around or “pin and stretch”, where you apply compression as you take the tissues through their range of motion.
  • Be gentle. You should not feel significantly sore after. To reduce intensity, add layers of a towel or blanket onto the props and/or decrease the amount of time you spend on one spot. If you cannot relax, moving the ball just a few centimetres can be helpful.
  • Use additional props to help you relax. These could be blocks, bolsters, blankets or things around your house such as cushions, towels or a stack of books and magazines.
  • The sensations should never be painful, sharp or shooting. Avoid bones, nerves and any areas that are already sore.
  • If you have any medical conditions, always consult your doctor first. 

Here is a sequence to help you get started with myofascial release. The sequence starts with the legs and works its way up to the torso,shoulder, arm and neck. You may wish to come back to the poses that felt most helpful or use this sequence to inspire you to explore other areas to work on. You’ll need one myofascial release ball, a yoga block and an optional blanket.


Try it if you struggle with downward-facing dog or forward folds.

From sitting, extend your right leg and place a block underneath the calf area. Place the ball on the block so that it is underneath the middle of the calf muscle. Stay still or move your leg side to side without the ball rolling away. Aim to stay for 1 minute then switch sides.


Try it if you are a runner, cyclist, speed walker or have knee pain.

Lie on your left side and prop yourself up onto your left forearm. Place the ball so that it is under the edge of your thigh and above the knee. Then place your left hand on the floor and lift your hips off the ground. Rock a little up and down to move the ball a few centimetres up and down the leg. Then move the ball so that it is at the mid-thigh but still under the edge and rock again. Repeat with the ball at the top of the thigh. Aim for 15 to 30 seconds in each spot, and then switch sides.

Lower back

Try it if you have lower-back pain, lean to one side at your desk or carry a baby on one hip.

Lie on your back with your feet together on the ground. Drop your knees over to the left side to come into a slight twist, while keeping both shoulders on the ground. Place the ball below the lowest rib on the right side. Make sure it is not under the vertebra of the spine but is in contact with the soft tissue just to the side of the spine. Stay still or for more pressure rock your hips side to side. Stay for 1-2 minutes and then switch sides.


Try it if you sit at a desk, drive a lot or struggle with back bends.

About two-thirds of the way down the collarbone towards your shoulder, notice the hollow below the collarbone. Lie belly down on your mat and position the ball in that hollow on the soft tissue. Stay here for 1-2 minutes and then switch sides. You will want to place the ball on top of a few layers of a blanket if you have larger breasts.


Try it if you struggle with taking your arms overhead or behind your back.

Lie on the floor and place a block under your head. Position the ball under the outer edge of your right armpit. Put your arm in cactus position, with your fingers pointing towards the ceiling. Move your hand and forearm towards the ground in the direction of your head, then comeback up. Repeat 9 times and then switch sides.

Upper back

Try it if you have a tight neck, use a computer or sit at a desk.

Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place a block under your hips. Position the balls under the tops of your shoulders, on either side of the spine and as far up as they can go without rolling away. Start with your arms by your sides and lift them over your head until your hands touch the ground. Lower them back down again. Repeat 9 times then switch sides.


Try it if you have neck pain, experience headaches or breastfeed.

Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place the block on its middle level and position it under the base of your skull so that your neck drapes off the block. Turn your head all the way to the right and then back towards centre until you feel a ridge of muscle. Stay for 30 seconds. Turn your head a quarter of the way towards centre again and repeat. Turn your head all way to the left and repeat, finding two more spots on the left side.

Final resting pose

To unwind and feel the relaxation effects of the practice, lie down on your back with your arms by your sides. Optional: place a bolster or rolled-up blanket under your knees. Notice the effect of the practice. Stay for five minutes.

When you can’t roll your yoga mat out, here’s howto do myofascial release on the go.

Option one:

  • Keep a ball (or a pair if you’re super keen) in your handbag or office drawer.
  • Sit in a chair, lean against a wall or use the back of your chair as the ground.
  • Move the ball around to various tender areas. Be still or add movement.
  • Try this at work or when commuting on trains, buses or aeroplanes.

Option two:

  • Use your hand instead of a ball.
  • Place your fingers on the very top of your right shoulder where the trapezius muscles fold over themselves and feel thick and dense.
  • Drop your right ear to your shoulder and push in.
  • Maintain the pressure as you take your left ear to the other shoulder.
  • Release your fingers.
  • Repeat 3-5 times and switch sides.